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Down Market Doesn’t Damper Large Loader Options

Large loaders, typically found in more permanent or fixed applications like quarries, transfer stations, and mills, are generally kept longer, which is a key to understanding market conditions.

“The more permanent applications entail a lot of fixed plant investment that doesn’t vary over time as much,” Bell says. “So larger loaders, which are normally required to work for at least 5 years or 10,000 hours, often work for double or even triple that in their lifetimes. During the 2009 downturn, many large loader applications continued to operate, but the owners opted to continue to run the older machines longer and reduce fleet size.

“This caused the large-loader segment to drop significantly in the aftermath of the downturn,” Bell says. “But now these markets are recovering from having the smallest and oldest fleet demographics in a long time, so most of the large-loader mega-buyers are back to more normal replenishment strategies.”

John Deere cites a 5-10 percent decline in the market during the same time period. “This decrease could be attributed to the major shift in the energy industry, where drops in demand led to overall market changes,” says John Chesterman, product marketing manager, production-class four-wheel-drive loaders, John Deere Construction & Forestry. “We’re confident we will see improvement in the quarry and aggregate segment
in 2017.”

Deere recently introduced a new model, the 844K-III Aggregate Handler, specifically for the segment. It has beefed-up horsepower (401 versus 380 in the conventional 844K-III), and is purpose-built for two-pass loading, using larger tilt cylinders, higher hydraulic pressure, and the increased counterweighting necessary to handle larger material-handling buckets up to 9.8 cubic yards.

Volvo Construction Equipment pegs the market for wheel loaders 200 horsepower and above as being down 11 percent. “Analysts see a slight downturn in the market in 2017, though not as large of a downturn as the 11 percent experienced this year,” says Eric Yeomans, product manager.

“We’ve continued to see a desire for customers to rent or lease for certain projects versus making capital investments; however, many are waiting to see what happens with the new administration in 2017,” Yeomans says.

“With the election behind us, we expect demand to increase in 2017, especially in infrastructure projects and commercial building developments where this wheel loader size class does a lot of heavy lifting, carrying, and loading tasks on job sites,” says Mike Stark, wheel loader product specialist for Doosan.

Taken together, it’s a bit of a mixed forecast from the OEMs that chose to respond, but if the purse strings do loosen for 2017, there is no shortage of choice for managers, with 10 manufacturers actively selling models in North America.

Lucas Sardenberg, product marketing consultant for wheel loaders at Caterpillar, advises managers to ask a series of questions before buying.

“Start with the current tool being used to perform the job: What size is it? What is the configuration? Do any modifications, such as different tires, guarding, or an additional counterweight need to be made?” Sardenberg says. “What are the limitations or why are you looking to replace it? Too much downtime? Not enough production?

“Next, go to the task at hand. For the smaller models, what use will the loader have? Is it loading or unloading material from trucks with pallet forks? If so, what weights and dimensions are involved? For underground utility jobs, what model and size excavator will assist the loader?” he says.

“Something else to consider before buying a wheel loader in this size class is the attachment, likely a bucket, and the best size for the machine,” says Doosan’s Stark.  “It is important for a fleet manager to select a bucket that is best suited for the types of material the wheel loader is regularly lifting, carrying, and dumping. Another consideration is choosing between a standard configuration and an optional high-lift configuration.”

Doosan offers a high-lift configuration on all of its wheel loaders. The option provides between 12 and 18 inches of additional dump height.

Such configurations are available from most manufacturers. “In some cases,” says Case brand marketing manager Andrew Dargatz, “depending on material density and bucket capacity needs, and if height is the primary issue, specifying an XR [extended reach] linkage may give contractors the hinge-pin height they need without having to upgrade to a larger machine.”

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